Thailand: Where to from here?
First published 14th April, 2009
It seems for now that the red-shirt protests that gripped first Pattaya and then Bangkok over the last few days are over. Services, including trains, buses and flights, are running as normal. A heavy military presence remains in some parts of the city, but aside from that it is largely back to business as usual. So here's a round-up of what happened, with some links for further reading and suggestions for those who'd really prefer to avoid Bangkok altogether.
As we said in earlier commentary on Travelfish.org, the situation was very volatile, but we're glad to see that matters for now have calmed.
That said, the polarisation of Thai society and its underlying causes remain. It is very unlikely that the red shirts will get what they want but if they do, the yellow shirts, who closed down Bangkok's two airports last year, will take to the streets again.
What the hell is happening in Thailand?
Thailand faces a number of challenging issues in the coming months and years. As with the world at large, Thailand is suffering a severe economic downturn that was exacerbated by the airport shutdowns late last year. With tourism making up an estimated 10% of economic activity, the country is even more susceptible to damage, as foreign visitors cancel trips due to their own dire financial straits. The trouble over the last few days has further damaged the appeal of a country once viewed as a progressive, reliable and safe tourist destination.
Complicating matters further, Thailand's long-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is 81 and in fragile health. Both the military and police forces are heavily politicised -- generally the police are seen as tilting toward the red shirts while the army is yellow leaning.
At the risk of over-simplifying, the current beleaguered government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power with the assistance of a military coup, two party dissolutions, a new constitution, an activist judiciary, implicit royal backing, an ultra-nationalist crisis, six months of escalating street provocation, military insubordination, and an economically disastrous airport shutdown. It is not totally unreasonable that the red shirts, whose elected government was pushed out to make way for Abhisit, feel jilted. (On the other hand, Abhisit's main predecessor and the red-shirt figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra was democratically elected, but rode roughshod over many democratic institutions while he was in power.)
More information please!
We won't get into further details about the politics -- we're a travel website after all -- but the following are some good background pieces to recent events:
What does all this mean for your holidays?
While matters remain volatile, it is unlikely that renewed protests will break out in the very near future. We do though believe that the protesters will return. For independent travellers -- those with the flexibility to alter plans, itineraries and destinations at the drop of a hat, we'd say you should not change your plans. For those on organised tours however -- where your itinerary, destinations and dates are more or less set in concrete -- matters are still a bit concerning.
So don't cancel your holiday, but don't stick your head in the sand either. Keep an eye on the news and make the effort to keep up to date with what is happening in Thailand. Make sure you have travel insurance, and make sure it covers trip cancellation.
Looking for another option?
If you are leaning towards cancelling your trip, you have a few options to consider.
First, if your vacation dates are flexible and your bookings include Bangkok, push back your holiday as far as possible. If you have not already started to use the ticket, chances are you can push back the dates for a nominal fee. We have not yet heard whether hotels are refunding deposits on bookings at the moment, but we hope they will be. In a few weeks, or at worst months, we imagine Thai hotels are going to be offering ridiculously cheap rooms in a bid to lure people back. If you move back your flight dates but your hotel can't offer you another room at the new dates, hang in there as rooms will become available once the cancellations seriously begin. And you may be able to change the dates on your travel insurance, or extend it if you have already begun your trip.
Second, if you still want to come to Thailand and you can't change your dates but you can change your flight routing, consider flying into Singapore or Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, and then getting a low cost flight to the island of Phuket, or the hub city of Hat Yai in the Thai south. Bangkok Airways also flies into Ko Samui, another popular island, but their tickets are somewhat pricier. You could also get a flight into Chiang Mai. Note that it will probably – though it's not always – be cheaper for you to fly into Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and then get a low-cost flight rather than getting a long-haul direct flight to Phuket/Hat Yai.
Third, if you don't want to come to Thailand but you've still got to take a holiday as your dates are locked in – or you just want to come to the region – there are plenty of other options. Get a flight to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon or Hanoi, then travel overland or get connecting low-cost flights to where you want to go. If Travelfish had to pick the top three places you should see in Southeast Asia outside Thailand, they would be:
1) Luang Prabang in Laos: Yes, it's turning into a theme park, but it's still gorgeous. There's fantastic scenery, amazing wats (think Chiang Mai 30 years ago), lovely cafes and interesting shopping. It's also not difficult to get off the beaten path for a week or two once you are here.
2) Angkor Wat (basing yourself in Siem Reap) in Cambodia: Ditto re theme park, but better to see it now than in five years. And there are some fantastic hotels in Siem Reap, along with similarly great eating. After you've done the ruins of Angkor, fly or bus down to Phnom Penh, one of the last quiet – well, relatively – capitals in Southeast Asia.
3) Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam: This stunning island is on the verge of massive development if the Vietnamese government is to be believed but for now it's still a beach bum's paradise.
Don't write-off Southeast Asia altogether. The Bangkok debacle may be a blessing in disguise and get you to visit places you may otherwise have never considered – or a holiday in Thailand a little down the track at vastly discounted prices.
Related readingPlanning around Thailand's civil unrest
Read 1 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (9)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (18)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (78)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai?
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Full Moon Party
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.